Suggestive T-shirts won't be sold Fire academy store will get more space under settlement HHTC

October 18, 1995|By MICHAEL JAMES | MICHAEL JAMES,SUN STAFF

A blind proprietor has agreed to stop selling "Big Johnson" T-shirts at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, ending a legal battle over whether sexually suggestive materials could be sold on federal property.

Donald J. Morris, the proprietor of O'Leary's Emporium, filed a federal lawsuit earlier this year, arguing that his First and Fifth Amendment rights were violated when federal fire officials threatened to close his store if he sold "sexually offensive material."

The "Big Johnson" T-shirts offer sexual innuendoes about firefighters and women and prompted complaints from women who were training at the fire academy. Mr. Morris' trinket shop is in the basement of the academy, where more than 15,000 people a year study the science of battling fires.

Under the terms of the settlement announced yesterday, Mr. Morris has agreed not to sell the T-shirts, as well as sexually suggestive greeting cards.

Fire administrators, in turn, agreed to give him more retail space in the building by allowing the store to sell items from an adjoining room.

"This resolution will protect our students and visitors from being subjected to inappropriate material. Likewise, Mr. Morris benefits from an improved retail space. This is a good outcome for both sides," said U.S. Fire Administration chief Carrye B. Brown, the nation's top fire official.

Mr. Morris, 56, is a private businessman who works in the building through a federal program for blind people operating vending facilities. He couldn't be reached yesterday.

His attorney, Andrew D. Freeman, had argued in previous court memorandums that the government had "rushed to political correctness" in issuing a cease-and-desist order that forbade the sale of the T-shirts and cards. The items, he said, were not explicitly sexual and were just an attempt at bawdy firefighting humor.

"Unlike obscenity and fighting words, there is no bad taste exception to the First Amendment," Mr. Freeman wrote in a memorandum this spring.

But rather than continue a lengthy legal battle, Mr. Morris opted to "put this behind him and not sell the items in question. He was never looking to offend anyone," Mr. Freeman said.

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